Jaha Dukureh is nothing less than an inspiration. At 24 years old, she is a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM) and is speaking out against the barbaric practice. Jaha is the founder of Safe Hands for Girls, an initiative that aims to educate young girls and at risk communities about the catastrophic, life-long consequences of FGM. Jaha is a L'Oréal Paris Women of Worth Honoree, an award for "strength, perseverance and determination" that honors women who "through courage, have become beacons of change in their communities."
Jaha led the first youth movement against FGM in The Gambia and fights vigilantly for the cause she believes in. It might seem like a foreign fight to you, but when you consider that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimates there are 504,000 girls in danger of suffering FGM in the U.S., you realize that no community is entirely immune. Jaha has directly saved over 100 girls from FGM as a direct consequence of her tireless work. In 2010 she also assisted in the creation of the Girls' Protection Act of 2010, criminalizing the process of shipping girls out of the U.S. to perform FGM on them, and in 2014 she initiated a Change.org petition which garnered over 220,000 signatures, forcing the Obama administration to launch an investigation (through the CDC) into FGM in the U.S.
Jaha is now receiving $10,000 for her charity as a L'Oréal Paris Women of Worth Honoree and could possibly win $25,000 for her cause if she's selected as the National Honoree. You can vote for Jaha to be awarded the National Honoree prize before Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, on WomenofWorth.com, and on L'Oréal Paris' Facebook and Twitter pages. Meanwhile, we spoke to her about her work, passion for equality, and dream of an FGM free world.
1. How did you go about creating Safe Hands for Girls?
I created Safe Hands for Girls with some friends and survivors that believed in our mission and the power of our voice.
2. What are the challenges of being a young woman and seeking global change?
As a young woman, at times people think I am naive and thinking too big. They undermine our efforts and don't see us as key decision makers. Change has been challenging especially at a global level and on a sensitive issue as female genital mutilation (FGM).
3. What inspires you about your work?
What inspires me about my work is the power of young people and how energetic they can be about a cause. My team and I show up to work every day ready to take on the world. Also, I am truly grateful to be part of the L'Oréal Paris Women of Worth program because this opportunity brings FGM to the forefront of conversations and we are able to spread the word about this important cause.
4. What advice do you have for other young woman who want to affect social change?
I want young people to know that they are change agents and their voices matter. They should never underestimate their power and what they can do. As long as they have their voice they can effect change.
5. What does your ideal world look like?
My ideal world is one where we are free and equal to our male counterparts. Where our genitals won't be sliced in the name of culture.